I follow a girl on Instagram who is a rare glimpse of reality in a medium often infiltrated by carefully curated “honesty”. She lost her husband to cancer a little over a year ago now. Several weeks ago, she posted a picture from his last days. Days when she was always near him, afraid to get up from his side in case he needed something or became disoriented and tried to stand and walk around in his weakened state. In the photo, she is curled up on the floor next to her red-bearded man, who is lying on the couch under piles of blankets. His oxygen machine is off to the left. Her head is resting on the arm she has outstretched across him.
I saw it, and it broke the part of me that’s always aware of how death is always coming too quickly and too slowly at the same time. That has been my life for nearly two years, after every surgery and every scan, but especially every other Monday since Jesse began undergoing chemotherapy treatments (and frequently in between).
“I want all of this to end. I want to wake up and have this not be my life. I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to suffer any more. I don’t want to be tortured to the brink of my sanity with the repetition of his personality shift every other week, with the painful, disorienting seizures that rack his body, with the little eyes watching and seeing and knowing and sitting on the stairs feeling helpless under the strain of seeing their strong daddy so weakened and suffering. I want to be done. I’m afraid to be done. I’m tired of asking for healing and receiving more pain instead. All around me, God is reaching down and healing people. I’m watching it happen to them and not to him. I want to rejoice in their healing, and I do. But it stings. It is a wounding sort of happiness. Relief for them and their families brings grief for me and mine. Why not us, Lord? What did we do wrong? Why have you forsaken us? Why are we still suffering this? You could at least take away his seizures. That is not asking too much. It isn’t. You are plenty powerful enough. I would never ask my children to withstand this sort of torture alone. Why are you leaving us in this pit? You rescued Daniel from the lions. You pulled Joseph from the pit and placed him in a position of protection and authority. You restored David over and over again. You gave an old man and woman a child and made him the Father of nations. This is not too much for you, Lord. It isn’t. Where are you? Why aren’t you answering me? Why aren’t you giving me direction in his seizures, in his treatment? Why? Why have you abandoned our children? Why are you giving me no words to write? What is going on? Do you use and cast aside when you are done? Did I miss something? Are you there? Are you real? Have you turned away from us? Have you turned away from me? I feel alone. Hopeless. Despairing. Dry. Dead inside.
I am nothing-er than nothing
Ashen bone in raging wind.”
Journal entry: 6-19-17
Doubt does not “creep up” in the cancer life. It saunters in with its broad shoulders and muscular arms and gives grief a hearty handshake and hello, wrapping its bulging bicep around the back of sorrow and ushering it along to discuss God’s “goodness”, “sovereignty”, and “love”. It is unequivocally difficult to continue to seek out hope when there is so much wounding and despair permeating your life. It is easy to become dry. The Lord has graciously guided me to Ezekiel 37 for the past several weeks as I’ve wrestled with doubt born of acute anguish. If you don’t know it, I encourage you to pause your reading of this post and read through it first in your bible. For those of you who may not have access to a bible, I’ll paraphrase the story here for you:
Ezekiel is taken by God, in a vision, to a field of endless dry bones. Not a spec of tissue or tendon was left on them. No person distinguishable from the next. All equal in their being remnants of what was. Nameless. Lifeless. Utterly withered and dry. Nothing. Nothing-er than nothingness. God brings him there and asks him a question. “Son of Man [Ezekiel], can these bones live?” And Ezekiel answers, “O Lord God, you know.” Then, the Lord tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, to tell them to hear the word of the Lord, that He “will cause breath to enter [them], and [they] shall live”. He goes on to say He will cause flesh and tendons and skin to come onto their forms. Ezekiel obeys, prophesies, and dust-turning bones rise up and take their once human form again. So Ezekiel prophesies “to the breath” as the Lord tells him to do. “And the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” The deader-than-dead now full of life. God then tells Ezekiel that this vision is an analogy of Israel, of the way His people have turned away, the way the Lord still seeks them, and will restore them to Him by putting His Spirit in them and giving them real, true life. “I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
This reads like a very bizarre scene from a sci-fi series. After all, if you saw a person lying unconscious on the ground, you would perhaps try to save them. But if you saw a skeleton, you wouldn’t even think to administer CPR. It is a skeleton. It is unquestionably dead. It is nothing but bone slowly turning to dust. But Ezekiel, standing up to his ankles in countless remnants of lives once lived and obviously gone, when asked by God, “Can these bones live?” replies quite simply, “Oh Lord God, you know.” He comes to a skeleton on the side of the road, a dead remnant of a person so surely incapable of breath, with no lungs to inflate or heart to willfully pump into rhythm, and believes the Lord can make it live again. He surrenders his limited understanding for God’s infinite capability.
I know I write a lot about this Jesus guy, this boundlessly capable God. I know, too, that some of you must be struggling with whether or not He is trustworthy, or even real. I know this because I am waffling human, just as you are. I have questioned and analyzed and sometimes come to the end of my research with more questions than answers. And I have doubted, too. Doubt and Faith are opposites, you know. Doubt being the lack of conviction, and Faith being conviction so strong that the unbelievable is the only rational conclusion. Doubt kicks the dry bones out of the way with an eye roll and mocks the Voice who asks if the bones can live. Faith stands amidst the bones, inclines its ear to the Voice, and prophesies as commanded by It: “Rise up! Live! Breathe!”
Perhaps you are feeling dry today, so parched that you cannot make your lips form the words needed to cry out for the Living Water. Can I just be Ezekiel to you for a moment as some very dear people have been to me in the weeks passed? If you are straining to cry out as the Israelites, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”, the Lord has not forgotten or forsaken you. This moment is not the end of your story. The Lord looks at your dry bones and sees the potential for life, not the depths of the decay. He can and will “raise you from your graves”, if only you will lift your eyes to Him and listen to hear His voice asking “Can these bones live?” (“Do you believe I am capable of giving you life?”) and respond as simply as Ezekiel, “O Lord God, you know” (“Lord, I know you are able. I trust you.”); and surrender, breathing in His breath of mercy and of life. God is powerful enough to breathe life into the ashen bone of your existence. There is no situation, no circumstance, no grief, no pain, no loss, no nothing, no dead-inside-parched-existence that He cannot resurrect, restructure, and use for your good and His glory.
I still have unanswered questions. I still struggle and fight to surrender aspects of my life into the hands of the God Who Knows, every single day. I expect the wrestling between flesh and spirit to linger until the Lord calls me home; and that means I will, undoubtedly, have more and more questions with no clear answers. But at the end of every confused question I utter, there is one answer that does. not. fail me: Jesus Christ, The Breath of Life.
Update on Jesse:
-We are no longer doing chemo!! *Insert obnoxiously loud shouts of joy here* He still has remaining tumor that we must find a way to treat, but we are grateful that he is stable enough to cease chemo, even if only for a while. To put it as simply as I can, there are no rules in treating his tumor type and grade. The chemo was costing more than we could see it benefiting, so we sought the Lord and came away convinced He was guiding us to cease that course of treatment in pursuit of other options. We aren’t yet in a place where we have enough information to give anyone even a vague answer in what the next steps will be, but I’ll update as soon as we have a clearer path beneath our feet. Until then, thank you thank you thank you for bearing with us, for upholding us, for supporting us in so many ways, for breathing the hope and peace of Jesus over us in our weary moments, and rejoicing with us in the victories. You all bless us tremendously!
*Photo cred: Grieving Girl, by x1klima